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Schiit Asgard + HD650 - New guy's opinion

post #1 of 50
Thread Starter 

I would include my own photos but I think jude's post already has very detailed unboxing pictures so check them out here.

 

A lot of information you can probably pick up from jude's post actually It is $249 and about $260 after shipping. The packaging was sufficient and clean. No peanuts, hooray. It comes with a 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable, standard issue power cable, 3.5mm to 1/4" converter, and little plastic/rubber feet you can stick on the amp. I'm relatively new to Head-fi and headphone equipment in general, so if you don't want to read my inexperienced/limited musings, you don't have to. My setup before purchasing the Asgard was Foobar WASAPI -> Realtek ALC889 TOSLINK -> Yamaha RX-V365 -> Sennheiser HD650. That is all I have. If you want to make a suggestion for another pair of headphones you should in my lonely thread.

 

Things I've noticed about the unit itself:

  • It does indeed get hot. At normal room temperature in a well ventilated room, it isn't really noticeable until it's been on for about an hour. This is by design and is mentioned in the manual at least twice and also on their website. The only part of the unit that gets uncomfortably hot is the bottom, which probably won't matter to anyone that isn't carrying it around like a boom-box (It's tempting, I know)
  • The chassis picks up oil from your skin and scuffs pretty easily. I don't consider myself a particularly greasy individual. It's probably just the lack of finish on the metal which really is somewhat of a unnecessary expense when trying to keep manufacturing costs down. It looks to be made of brushed aluminum but don't quote me on that. Other than that, I find the amp itself to be very aesthetically pleasing.
  • It's simple. Power switch, power jack, 2 RCA input jacks, 1/4" output jack, and a volume control knob. No extra doodads.
  • jude mentioned hearing a "very mild mechanical hum" coming from the amp (from the transformer inside the amp, not in the actual output). I haven't heard a peep from it, so either the hum is very, very mild or I'm just deaf.

 

Things I've noticed about the sound with the HD650:

  • Compared to listening to them through the Yamaha receiver, there is a subtle increase in bass. It still sounds very clean and tight.
  • A lot of people negatively mention the Sennheiser "veil", particularly in reviews of the 650's, that rolls off the higher frequencies. I actually think it's a good quality as I normally get headaches/tinnitus listening to music for longer than a half hour on friends' headphones or those little cheapy ear buds that come with iPods, a problem I haven't had with the 650. I mention this because I notice the treble sounds much more pronounced through the Asgard than through the receiver. It makes for a less relaxing listening experience for me, but if you're one of those people that don't like how some Sennheisers handle the higher frequencies then I'd have to say the Asgard is probably right up your alley.
  • Midrange feels weaker in comparison. This might just be because the treble and bass are louder.
  • The volume control is very smooth.
  • I don't know if this is even possible or not, but while the volume control is smooth it feels like if I turn it... let's say 9 degrees clockwise, the first 3 degrees increases just the bass volume, next 3 increases the midrange, then the next 3 degrees increases the treble. I might just be psychotic, but that's what I'm hearing when I fiddle with the volume.
  • Even at max volume, I hear very little noise/static coming through to the headphones compared to the receiver at roughly the same volumes.

 

Final impressions:

 

I haven't decided whether or not I'll keep the Asgard, but I should probably make that decision soon. A friend of mine kicked up my expectations saying that the difference an amp would make would be huge for headphones with such high impedance. There is a difference, but I can't honestly say I thought it was huge. I could say at best it's a mild improvement over my existing setup. You can find an RX-V365 for as much as $80 less than the Asgard and it provides much more functionality. Obviously it's quite a bit bigger than the Asgard but neither of them were really meant to be portable. However, I can pretty easily unhook the Asgard and take it to work when I feel like it (which I wouldn't even dream of doing with the receiver). I know $260 isn't a lot of money to some people, but hey I grew up poor so I try not to be extravagant.

 

The amp has a 15 day money back guarantee policy and a 5 year warranty. I think Schiit itself is a decent company that shows pride in their work with a sense of humor. Before you take my indecision on whether or not to keep the Asgard as a negative opinion of the amp, keep in mind this is my first and only pure headphone amp. You don't know if I'd feel the same way about an amp that costs 2 to 20 times more than the Asgard. Take these impressions with a grain of salt is really all I can say.


Edited by nordan - 9/10/10 at 3:19pm
post #2 of 50

nicely done, thanks for taking time to review it.

post #3 of 50

Nice impressions. Just take advantage of the 15day trial and let your ears get used to the sound. You might hear and think differently towards the end of that time.

 

Also, what kind of music files were you listening to? mp3s or FLACs? If you were listening to relatively lower quality mp3s, the benefits of a headphone amp might not be as obvious as with lossless encodings.

post #4 of 50

nice write up... its only the beginning. you have been warned!! :)

post #5 of 50
Thread Starter 

Thanks for reading them kingtz.

 

I've mostly been listening to FLACs and 96khz vinyl rips. Rarely anything below 256kbps VBR. To be honest, I have a really hard time telling the difference from a good 256 VBR MP3 and a FLAC.

post #6 of 50

So your source files certainly aren't the issue. Are you still outputting to the amp from your sound card? If so, your soundcard could be your bottleneck as some people say that a high quality DAC makes a bigger difference than an amp. (I haven't tested this yet for myself, but I will once my own amp gets delivered).

 

If you're still using your sound card as an output, then see if you can borrow a decent quality DAC to hear a difference. If even then you can't hear the improvement that you were expecting, then the Asgard's probably not what you need.

post #7 of 50

I have a midrange Yamaha Surround receiver.  Providing the source is of decent quality (computer output and the integral Yamaha dac is very poor IMO), the difference I notice between a receiver and a dedicated headamp using the HD650 include a less bloated, very controlled and tight bass (receiver has ample power to deveil the HD650, but bass is big powerful, without control).  Sounstage is bigger, instrument separation and 3 dimensionality is the core advantage along with the bass.  A lower background also lends to better detail retrieval as well.

 

But some people are quite happy to drive the HD650 out of a powerful receiver or integrated without the need for a dedicated amp.  I think the HD650 is amongst the best reference cans out there, and truly deserves components that make them that little bit better.

post #8 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by kingtz View Post

... Are you still outputting to the amp from your sound card? ...


I would second this and recommend that you try to get a hold of a stand-alone DAC or a really good soundcard. Even the Nuforce uDAC or uDAC2 makes a big improvement.

Perhaps you can try your setup with another high quality source like a good CD or SACD player. That gives you better conditions to hear if the Asgard sounds better or not.

 

Good luck!

post #9 of 50
Thread Starter 

I am currently using the onboard soundcard, but I've heard the ALC889 is of decent quality, comparable to the X-Fi series at least. If you feel differently, let me know. There are so many different opinions floating around here I could never possibly read them all. I may consider a stand alone DAC in a few months. I just ordered a pair of DT880's last night and I don't want my spending to get out of control. Also the general consensus from most members in the threads related to DACs seemed to be that unless you were willing to spend a fair amount on one, the difference it made would be negligible. Again this is just what I've picked up and can't speak from personal experience. Really looking forward to the meet in Seattle to try out some of the different equipment people bring to get an opinion of my own.

post #10 of 50

On board sound is rubbish, you are willing to spend about the same on a can as on the amp to drive it - spending that same amount again on a source, before you bought the DT880 would've made more sense.  Now that you have both HD650 and DT880 - two very good reference cans, perhaps a reference dac is not out of the question - onboard 2 dollar dac that is amplified by the onboard 2 dollar headamp and then by your reference Schiit Asgard, I think you've made every mistake a novice can make.

post #11 of 50

I would hold on to the Asgard until you have had time to try your setup with a good DAC. As SP Wild stated above the amp and your headphones are very good. Selling or returning the Asgard

without giving it the chance with a good source signal sounds wrong...

 

Who states that the difference between an onboard soundcard and dedicated DAC is small? Just wondering...

post #12 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by nordan View Post

Also the general consensus from most members in the threads related to DACs seemed to be that unless you were willing to spend a fair amount on one, the difference it made would be negligible.


Well, the accuracy of this statement rests upon what one's definition of a "fair amount" is. To put it into context, yes, a crappy DAC will be similar to that found on soundcards, but even if you get the $100 uDAC, you'll get a pretty high quality DAC that will best any onboard soundcard, and if you get a $300+ DAC, you'll be hardpressed to find any soundcard that'll be better. To me, a "fair amount" is $700+ for a standalone DAC, and I've seen DACs that cost in the thousands. Relatively speaking, $300 for a DAC isn't that much, but since I'm also not rolling around in cash, $300 is also a lot of money relative to other things you need in life. So yeah, it boils back down to what you consider a "fair amount".

post #13 of 50
Thread Starter 

Based on what you guys have said I'll probably hold on to the Asgard. I'm still skeptical about the stand alone DAC simply because I heard absolutely no difference between using my soundcard as a DAC and my receiver as a DAC. I suppose it's entirely possible that they both suck horribly at the exact same level, but I'm having a hard time finding more than one opinion on the audio chipset or the receiver to verify that. It's also a little hard to throw several hundred dollars at something you pretty much have to take on faith until you have one of your own, also keeping in mind that it's possible if you don't throw enough money at it you might not hear any difference.

 

There was a thread here that I read maybe a couple months ago that unfortunately I can't seem to find again. A member posted his impressions of several high-end DACs that he got to test out. I'm afraid I don't remember the makes/models of these either, but they varied heavily in price. What I remember of the thread was the OP saying while they had subtle differences, he found their price tags weren't justified. Several other members came out of the woodwork to admit they thought DACs made the least difference in sound quality in a sound system. Anyway, that's probably where I got this idea that DACs don't mean much but like I said, I'm open to well articulated opinions and have definitely not read every thread here.

 

Kingtz: I probably wouldn't pay more than I paid for my headphones for a DAC. If everything else I've bought is "reference" quality in the $200-300 range, then I feel there should be a high quality DAC in that range that compliments the rest of the setup. I like your input the most so far; it's very informative without coming across too judgmental. I'm curious if you've ever removed the DAC from any of your systems or swapped them for comparison? If you have, what were your impressions? Also, have you posted any impressions of your Valhalla?

post #14 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by SP Wild View Post

 


But some people are quite happy to drive the HD650 out of a powerful receiver or integrated without the need for a dedicated amp.  I think the HD650 is amongst the best reference cans out there, and truly deserves components that make them that little bit better.


The emphasis is bolded and in italics.

post #15 of 50


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by nordan View Post
Kingtz: I probably wouldn't pay more than I paid for my headphones for a DAC. If everything else I've bought is "reference" quality in the $200-300 range, then I feel there should be a high quality DAC in that range that compliments the rest of the setup. I like your input the most so far; it's very informative without coming across too judgmental. I'm curious if you've ever removed the DAC from any of your systems or swapped them for comparison? If you have, what were your impressions? Also, have you posted any impressions of your Valhalla?

 

I agree with you about the pricing. Which is why you'll see that everything in my home setup is around $300-$400 each - around the price of the HD650. This is a sweetspot for me that I am really enjoying. Will it get better for more money? Definitely, but I don't think I'll see drastic improvements unless I start getting components that cost maybe double or triple.

 

To address your earlier comparison between your onboard soundcard and your receiver - like you said yourself, you're comparing two non-optimal setups, so yeah, neither one would be drastically better or worse than the other.

 

Here are some impressions I wrote earlier that I copy+paste from depths of the growing Valhalla thread:

(As with all impressions and opinions, take mine with a grain of salt)

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by kingtz View Post

Finally received my Valhalla!!! For all that waiting, it took 1 day to get to my house. lol

 

Playing around with it now. Just out of the box, I can definitely attest to the great build quality. Very solidly constructed, all the lines are straight, and it's heavier than it looks. Looks great in person, but I still wish it came in black.

 

As for the "heat", I've had it on for about ~10mins now, and still not hot, and this coffee isn't going to warm itself.

 

 

 

UPDATE: 4 hours later, the amp is quite a bit warmer, but I would never consider this unbearable hot. It's very warm and the volume knob is about the same temperature as the rest of the chassis, but once again, I have to stress that it's only very warm, not hot or burning. Looks like I won't get to warm my coffee afterall.

 

Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there are light, white fingerprints on the chassis. I can see them on the top surface, as well as near the volume knob. They are not coming off with a microfiber cloth, so does anyone have any recommendations? They're defintiely not oil caused by me. They don't smear like oil would and they're white.

 

As for sound, I love it.

Just some initial observations:

With just the uDAC alone, I noticed that when certain female vocalists hit some really high notes, my cans really start crackling or etching.

With uDAC -> Valhalla, the crackling/etching vastly disappeared, but was still there a bit, but just for the really, really high notes. Bass is both fuller and with more impact than just the uDAC alone.

With V-DAC -> Valhalla, the crackling/etching completely disappeared. Bass seems to have greater extension, and goes loooowwwww, but with a little less impact (or so I think). The highs and mids seem to have more clarity. I need to listen some more and perhaps acclimatize. I also now know what people mean by the HD650 being "veiled", as it is no longer there now. With just the uDAC alone, I had no frame of reference so I didn't know what I should or should not have been hearing. With this setup however, everything just has greater clarity. The cans are still not too "bright", however, since I've been listening to music for the last 4 hrs straight and still no fatigue.

 


Edited by kingtz - 9/17/10 at 2:38am
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